The KHL is continuing its search for new members all across Europe, with a club from Italy getting ready to join the league next season.
The choice of Milano Rossoblu hockey club to become the first Western European side in the league is not as exotic as it first seems.
“We have a very long history of hockey [in Italy]. And in Milano it is very long, too,” Ico Miglore, Milano Rossoblu president, said. “Because we started in 1923, when the first indoor arena was built in Milano. And it was the first indoor arena in Europe.”
Nevertheless, ice hockey is still some distance from topping football in terms of popularity in Italy. The Stadio Olympico in Turin was one of the main venues for the 2006 Winter Olympic program.
But five years on, there is barely a reminder of the epic hockey battles that took place here. The ice rink was removed soon after the Games finished, allowing the stadium to become the new home of Juventus and Torino football clubs.
However, Milano Rossoblu are set to join the Kontinental Hockey League in 2012.
“They have finally agreed that we have the capability in terms of organization to join the league,” Miglore explained. “Of course, it is not going to be a superstar team from the very beginning – we need time to develop.”
“The 2006 Winter Olympics didn't affect the popularity of hockey in the country at all,” Massimo Da Rin, Milano Rossoblu coach, said. “Of course, the Games were a great event for the Italian people, stadiums were renovated, and a lot of infrastructure developed, so some local clubs gained a lot then – but not the Italian game as a whole. In this respect, the KHL is another chance for us. Not only for Milan, but for the entire country to take a significant step forward.”
The addition of Rossoblu may seem like a small step for the KHL, but for the club itself it is quite simply a massive leap.